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   The Saga of the Stolen Shutters
      by Francis Brown

Only a couple of us knew they even existed. They had been stacked—14 of them—in the basement of the Meeting House for up to a century, maybe longer. I suppose they had deteriorated from so many years of dampness. Their value hadn't occurred to me. Until recent years we didn't even have a padlock on the basement door. Even now, the key ring for both the Meeting and School House buildings hangs from a rafter barely three feet away. But they were gone now. I thought it best to just accept the loss and say little. After all, what was important was the spiritual life of our Meeting—not a bunch of ancient shutters.

Even though I was down there every Sunday morning, it was half dark and I am usually only half awake when I started the wood fire. So I hadn't noticed their absence. Mike Young, a former Trustee looking for a "tie back" for one of the front shutters which had never been removed, discovered the heist. We were sanguine, but in our hearts we felt the loss.

The next Monday, my wife Enid and I drove around and checked a few antique shops. We knew it was a "needle in the haystack." Likely, they were taken out of state. That was that, we said. Until Friday. My brother, Ellis, had stopped in for his weekly egg delivery. We chatted a bit, but I didn't say anything about the shutters, although he, as Enid, was a Trustee of the Meeting. When he left about 11 o'clock, I debated my project for the day. It was clear and warm, a good day to go for a jag of coal to see us through the winter. Then I said, no, better to go to West Chester and pick up the antique reproduction latch that was being made for Old Caln Meeting House. That simple decision was the first in a series of breaks in the saga of the stolen shutters.

Break #2 came as I was about to leave with the latch. It suddenly occurred to me to ask where in the world one would look for stolen shutters. They could be anywhere, I was told. An antique shop on U.S. Route 322 just west of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, was mentioned. On my way home I stopped at this shop and inquired. "Look round," was the reply. Upon entering a back shed I stopped in my tracks. Right in front of me was one of our shutters! I recognized it immediately.

This led me to speculate that the rest of the shutters just might be in the area. And that notion led to Break #3. I went home and decided to phone around from the Yellow Pages. No one had any shutters of our size — two feet wide by 80" long. But one man suggested a shop, recently opened, on U.S. Route 30 near Gap. Since we had no phone number, Enid and I set out, "just in case." This was about 3 P.M.

Once there, Enid looked around outside while I inquired within. The sales lady, who was new, suggested that I check the barn loft. I climbed a rickety staircase and then, rounding a corner, once again I froze. On the far wall stood, not one, but six of the shutters, all marked "Sold!" We told the lady our story. The owner had just taken his wife to the hospital for a "Caesarean" and she was about to close. But then she mentioned something which has to go down as an unbelievable Break #4. Just an hour or so before we arrived—that very afternoon— the man who had bought the shutters had taken three pairs, intending to come back for the ones in the loft. The only reason he hadn't taken them all, she said, was that his truck was too full! Had he done so, we would have seen no shutters. It would have been just another futile visit to an antique shop.

When we got home, I left a phone message with the owner, briefly describing the situation and asking that he call when he came in. As the hours passed, I began to despair. Finally, well after midnight, he phoned and assured us that we would get them all back—including the "tie backs" which were part of the loot. He suggested we come out in the morning.

Mike took his van, and we headed to the "Pheasant Run Antique Shop." We took with us a photograph of the Meeting House which showed the shutters on the front windows. We also took the one shutter not stolen—the bottom one of the stack which had rotted. Should there be any doubt, these would substantiate our story. Shenanigans in this business, we were told, can work both ways. If someone really wants something, one way to get it is to claim stolen goods.

The owner was most cooperative. He helped us load the six shutters in the van and phoned the man who had bought the lot, leaving a message that they had been stolen, that he wanted them back, and that the man would be refunded. On our way home we picked up the single shutter—the mate to the rotted one. I phoned Gerard R. Williams, my partner in "things preservation." Gerry knows everyone relevant in Chester County. Although this was all new to him, he immediately got on the track. His involvement represents the final break—Break #5. The man who had bought the shutters was from West Chester and happened to be a person Gerry knew from prior dealings. Gerry went to his shop and learned that his phone number—the one the dealer had called—had been changed so that the message had not gotten through. This was still Saturday afternoon —and what do you suppose? Yes, those shutters had already been resold! Gerry happened also to know the new owner, so he was able to arrange their return. How relieved we were when, at day's end, he phoned saying that those other six shutters—plus the 14 tie backs—were safely in his truck!

After Meeting the next morning—March 8—Gerry, my son-in-law Graham Miles, and Mike Young caucused and decided to store them under the floor of the School House—under lock and key! It was a lively two days. Judging by the interest displayed in the antique world, we now know their value. Why they were ever taken down in the first place we don't know. But let's not risk any more long term "storage." I suggested that we have them restored and rehung—say, one or two at a time?

This all happened back in 1998. Today, those shutters have all been restored, repainted, and now hang on their original hooks at each window of our Meeting House! This decision to restore and rehang these original shutters can be said to constitute the final Break in the "Saga." I like to think that the Lord was at work in all this. That which was lost, was miraculously found—and restored!

NOTE: The above is an excerpt from Downingtown Friends Meeting: An Early History of Quakers in the Great Valley by Francis G. Brown.

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